Besides getting into Dauntless and stopping a war, Tris's other big adventure in Divergent is figuring out who she is. But identity isn't just about what's inside Tris (ew, organs)—it's also about her relationships with family and friends (and society in general). A big part of identity here is figuring out where you fit in. Which is pretty hard for most young people, including Tris. Instead of being able to be happy in one of the factions, Tris's main identity is (spoiler alert if you missed it in the title) that she's Divergent. That means that no matter how hard she tries, she's never going to fit into her world.
In Divergent, identity is about how you act with the people around you, not what you think.
Identity in Divergent is revealed most in times of trouble and stress: anyone can be calm when they're eating a hamburger, but only someone who is really calm can be calm when there are gunfights going on.
Courage may be what the Dauntless are known, but in reality, they're more focused on fear. for Throughout Divergent, we see the characters questioning the nature of bravery and fear: Is true courage fighting someone or stepping up to protect someone? Is fear something you can leave behind or something you have to overcome every time? Eventually Tris comes to realize that bravery isn't about getting tattoos—it's about standing up for what she believes in: "ordinary acts of bravery" (16.136). And thanks to the Dauntless initiation method—which involves lots of "facing your fears"—we get to see a lot of what Tris is afraid of.
We see fear in many different forms and at many different times because fear is the most important human feeling in this book. (Which is sad.)
Fear actually makes Tris more alive and excited, which is why it's dangerous. She might continue to do dangerous things just for fun.
In Divergent, society is organized by faction. Just about everything about this society comes down to what faction people belong to: their jobs (Erudite teach, while Amity counsel), where they live, who they marry, what they wear, what they do for fun (Dauntless go zip lining, while Abnegation like to knit). Divergent never quite explains how this division of society actually took place, but from what we see in this book, it doesn't seem like it's going all that well. By the end of the novel, two of the five factions are a wreck, and they're about to bring the fight to a third. But what will follow the five-faction society? Peace? Chaos? A rump state? No seriously, that's a thing.
Divergent shows that this society is unstable—but only because of the actions of particular individuals, not society's overall structure.
The five-faction system only works because anyone who doesn't fit in can be cast into the factionless group and tossed out with the trash.
In Divergent, family is who you are before you get a chance to decide your identity. For Beatrice, this isn't just a case of what her parents named her (a name which she leaves behind when she joins Dauntless); it's more a case of what her family has taught her to be (a good little Abnegation) and how much guilt she feels about leaving that identity behind. In other words, although these people keep saying "faction before blood," family is actually how little kids get raised up in a faction. Beatrice struggles with her Abnegation instincts because her family raised her to be Abnegation.
In Divergent, family is the source of the most persistent forms of identity. You can't shake the affect your parents had on you (sadly).
Divergent teaches us that we need to get away from our families to really find out what choices we want to make.
When you're living in Chicago after the apocalypse (or, really, Chicago even before the apocalypse), it's useful to have friends who will support you. Especially if you've just abandoned your family and are facing competition from some power-hungry enemies. But as helpful as friends can be (unless they're mind-controlled), it can sometimes be hard to deal with friends, especially if you haven't had them before. Divergent's Tris is new to the whole friends thing, so when she's trying to figure out her identity, she also has to work through friend stuff, too.
Friends in Divergent are the kind of people you can tell secrets to. That means Tris doesn't really have any friends.
In Divergent, no adults have friends—they have co-conspirators and family, but no friends.
In Divergent, power is all about making other people do what you want them to do. (It's kind of like advertising in that way.) There's the straightforward power of Dauntless, who beat people up and destroy things. Then there's the more complicated, more manipulative power of Erudite, who want to control things, either through newspapers changing people's opinions or just, you know, controlling people's minds directly. And then there's Abnegation, whose power lies in sacrifice, which makes them stand out.
Whenever some character in Divergent experiences some moment of powerlessness, some other character comes along to help, because power is best in a community (friends, family, fellow fans).
The only thing that can stop power in Divergent is guilt—which the villains never seem to feel.
Divergent has a lot of hard choices, and some of those choices lead to some major guilt on Tris's part. Her guilt is tied to an immense sense of responsibility. Because she's Divergent, she has ties across the different factions, which means she feels she owe a lot of different people a lot of different things: leaving her family; lying to her friends; shooting Will in the head, the list goes on.
Guilt is useful as a way to control people; in Divergent, making others feel guilty is another way to have "power" over them. Lesson: don't feel guilty.
Tris seems more like a human being because she feels guilty about hurting others—but hurts them anyway. Hey, no one ever said she's good people. But she is people.
If Dauntless's theme weren't bravery, it would probably be competition. They've got boxing matches, paintball skirmishes, muffin shooting, and even Capture the Flag. But this isn't just fun, "let's play a game"-style competition. They're not just playing endless Words with Friends tourneys. Dauntless competition is life-and-death stuff. And that's even before we get into the political competition for power in the city.
In Divergent, people show their true selves when they're competing, whether that competition is fun-and-games or life-and-death.
Divergent shows us that people constantly struggle with two urges: the urge to compete and beat others; and the urge to help others.
Shmoopers, the tagline for this book is, "One Choice Can Transform You," so it's not like we're reaching here. In Divergent, the choice of faction is the most important choice that a person can make, or at least, that's what they believe. And sure, that one choice does dictate a lot about your life, from what job you have to what you wear. But there are other, smaller choices that the characters make every day that can have huge and lasting effects.
It's okay to make a wrong choice in Divergent because every mistake is a learning experience that will help the character the next time. (Or so we keep telling ourselves.)
The only characters who succeed in this book are those who contemplate all the options and choose among them. Anyone doing things by habit or without thought ends up making a mess, like shooting a friend in the head. Tris, we're looking at you.
Secrets are those pesky little things that (a) keep Tris from feeling really close to her friends and family and (b) protect Tris from her enemies, who would kill her if they knew her secrets. (Secret #1: She's Divergent. Secret #2: She didn't love The Avengers.) Because she wants to keep her secrets, Tris ends up lying to several of her friends. But at the same time, almost all of the villains here have secrets that they use to manipulate and have power over others. Secrets give you power, sure, but they can also threaten that power, which is something Tris knows all too well.
Divergent shows us that secrets are like power: they're not good or bad in the abstract—but they become good or bad when they're used for good or bad reasons.
Everyone in Divergent has to have secrets because secrets are an important part of identity.